Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Plows like people

When I was young, my granddad had an old horse drawn plow. Just an old farming tool, bent and twisted from a lifetime of honest service. It was rusted and broken to the point of being unrecognizable. Yet It fascinated me.

Sometimes I feel like that plow - as if life has bent and twisted me, making me almost a mystery to myself. But that is not as bad, as bad things go. I learned that from the plow. A plow is broken down by plowing. Doing what it was made to do results in it being unrecognizable.

But that is not how we begin. Such change dose not happen in a moment but over a lifetime. When we start out our heads are filled with possibility and dreams often only the fruit of a delinquent heart. Yet such misguided wishes never die easy. In time what one knows of hopes and dreams; what was thought of as life and future; the pleasant dreams of youth, are slowly sanded away till all that remains is a smooth simple hope, uncluttered and fixed.

Plows - like people - have scars.  Life is hard like fallow ground. It can be cruel and unforgiving. The process will warp and change you, scrap and scar you, but that is just part of living.  All the scars, the unrecognizable brokenness, when traced out tell a story. A story not defined by how it ends but by the whole of a life. You don't measure a plow by its weathered and haggard exterior but by the story its scars have to tell. Every ding, every scratch taken as a whole tells of a graced perseverance. A story of fallow ground broken in a long obedience in the same direction. A journey marked by many little deaths and littered with the tomb stones of abandoned dreams.

In the end, the plow was twisted and used up but maybe that's what fulfillment feels like sometimes. When you feel spent and poured out. Is that the splendor of being used? I think so. What gets us to the end is not wishful thinking of youth but the fix hope in God perfected over the long journey. When dreams die, and youthful hopes fade what remains is the assurance of the plow

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Christain Education: Learning the new language of Christianity

"Discipleship is a kind of immigration, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God's beloved Son (Col. 1:13). In Christ we are given a heavenly passport; in his body we learn how to live like "locals" of his kingdom. Such an immigration to a new kingdom isn't just a matter of being teleported to a different realm; we need to be acclimated to a new way of life, learn a new language, acquire new habits--and unlearn the habits of that rival dominion." - James K.A Smith

We all are immigrats. As immigrates learning is a necessary task, if we are to be a part of God's kingdom. This is why education is one way of the church disciples it's members. In Smith's quote he speaks of learning a new language. Such a phrase could be helpful in describing the process of Christain education. But first let us look at how we should understand what is meant by "language".

Language is more than words
Language is more than how human's communicate. It includes conveying information about the weather and other subjects. Yet language also has a social function. It is a means of establishing and maintaning relationships with other people. We share information about a person like what sort of job someone does or what social status they have. Without this information social interaction brakes down.

Beneath the social, language has a much deeper, more primal function. From a subjective stance, language is how we understand the world. The way we speak, the words we use, the syntax and grammar, metaphors and symbols, all coalesce to form how we describe and define the world. In short, language names reality (Gen 2:19-20a).

At this primal level is where language and Christianity intersect. Christain language is the way christain's label the world. It is the outworking of a Christain worldview in everyday descriptions and definitions. Thus learning the language of Christianity, particularly it's theological definitions is a very important enterprise. Such theological definitions form the way we see life by giving context, shape and definition to our lives. Life still has it's ineffable mysteries and perplexing enigmas yet even such darkness is set within a context of God's reign.

Learn a new language is Christian education.
Christain education is like learning a new language. A person's goal is to learn a language so that it becomes second nature. If we are to be really proficient at, say, German, we need to learn to think in German, maybe even dream in German. We reach the point where we can slip easily from one language to another without effort. We learn the idioms of speech of that language; its rules are embedded in our minds so that we do not need to pause to reach for the right mode of expression. It becomes part of us. Christain education is unlearning the world's system (a way of seeing and acting), by learning to define life by God's terms.

Not Christianese
Learning the language of Christianity is not like learning christianese. Christianese is form of Christians jargon. In which one learns to speak as a Christain without understanding much of what is meant. Christianese is a simple way of speaking that lacks substance, clearity, nuances and is generally akin to a first year language student. One uses (and misuses) certain words, theological terms, and catchphrases in everyday conversation often only comprehensible by those in the same group. It is the "pig Latin" of christainity, a novelty, or better a parody of the soul grammar imbedded in Christain truth. The language of Christianity is not how christain's talk but the core content of the faith that frames how we describe and define the world. It is less a way of speaking to the world and more a way of seeing and acting in the world.

Theology as Grammar
As a 'grammar,' theology provides structure to our thinking. It describes how the Christian faith is a special way of speaking and acting which makes sense of human life by giving it meaning, practical definitions, a particular style of life and hope. Learning how to see life by the new language of the kingdom is crucial to learning how to be a Christian.

Our context is community and aim is fluency.
Being fluent in Christianity means that, for the most part, we define life by God's terms. It must be noted at this point, such learning does not happen in a vacuum. The church is the language school and the Scriptures its textbook. Pastors and elders even Sunday school teachers perhaps should be regarded as language instructors and terminology tutors. They all in varying degrees, train us all in the "lingua franca" of Christain thought. More than any the common tongue of the community shapes our vision through the immersion of daily integration.

Example of prayer:
For example; in the context of the church community helping inform our reading. We learn the language of praise by reading and rereading the Psalms, we gain a God given grammar and vocabulary that our praise can inhabit. Worship is set within the daily drama of human life and we learn to see worship as an honest expression of our heart's current GPS. When we learn the language of praise our posture and relationship with God changes. We embody the psalms not in "phrasing" but in a heart unburdened and uncensored before God.

J. Dawson Jarrell

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Waiting in the inbetween

Waiting in the inbetween with Bonhoeffer.

A man sits in a cold cell in Tegel Prison. His body weathered like his clothes. He sits hunched over a desk. Pen in hand. The cold air of winter is the only reminder of the joyous season he is in. He is forced wait, to wonder, to think. He thinks about how every letter will be read twice, maybe three times. Once by the guards, once by the Lieutenant assigned to read them, and once by his loved ones to whom he writes. Three witnesses to each word, three opportunities to share, to pastor from a distance, those who God has given him even in his chains. His words are reflective yet disclose a faith, a real faith, raw yet unflinching, ardent but forloned. Every stroke a testemony, every goodbye could be the last. So from the depths of his cell, and from the depths of His waiting, he writes. These are just some of his reflections from those letters:

The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us…I think of you as you now sit together with the children and with all the Advent decorations- as in earlier years you did with us. We must do all this, even more intensively because we do not know how much longer we have.

– Letter to Bonhoeffer’s parents, Nov 29, 1943, from Tegel prison

Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting — that is, of hopefully doing without — will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment….

Those who do not know how it feels to struggle anxiously with the deepest question of life, of their life and patiently look forward with anticipation until the truth is revealed, cannot even dream of the spendor of the moment in which clarity is illuminated for them.  And for those who do not want to win the friendship and love of another person — who do not expectantly open up their soul to the soul of the other person, until friendship and love come, until they make their entrance — for such people the deepest blessing of the one like of two intertwined souls will remain forever hidden.

 For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm, but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing and becoming.

[In this letter Bonhoeffer goes on to console his fiance Maria, while reflecting on the message of Christmas]

…We shall ponder the imcomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand…and then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all of our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.

– Letter to Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, Dec 13, 1943

I like to believe when he finished writing. Bonhoeffe smiled, the kind of smile only faith can produce when surrounded by the cold burn of such a hell as Tegel prison. A rich deep smile that starts in the eyes and ends in the heart. A smile sustained by the truth that God was in the manger, and God is on the throne. A smile that does not hide the frustration of longing. A smile that wins friends even enemies. The kind of smile cultivated during advent and enjoyed at Christmas.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One sided conversations (a pedigogical attempt at a story that teaches)

Below is a fictional conversation heard in a bus station by a guy named Harvey Strickland,

Last week I was reading in the bus station, waiting for the 428 to Milwaukee. When a young Mediterranean man asked to bum a quarter. I was feeling generous so I passes him a coin. Now the phone booth was near my seat. So I could not help but hear his side of the conversation. This is what I heard:

Hey, Jesus, it's you boy Fay! yea.. I know been while. I thought I would give you a call and see if you were in town. Oh, still out.. Cool cool...Yea, Jesus so when you coming back? You don't know? your dad knows.. Right.. Ok.... Yea... Communication can be hard between a father and Son. You should really try to go fishing with him or something....

Sooooooo, what ya been up too? Reading? You blue-collar boy getting some learn'en. Reading, Exodus.. Like from the bible.. Good stuff.. Wait.... Did you say you think Moses wrote it? Yea, I know the ESV Study Bible says he is the author but that's not totally true. If you got a minute I can explain. Cool! Well buckle up, Jesus, cause I am about to take you to school... Ha ha!! ......... Hu!? Yes! Two years at the university! They had a religion department!!! The teacher was a PhD! I think he was Unitarian..or something.. His name is John Gutierrez... YOU don't KNOW HIM! What's that got to do with anything? Jesus! You can get all high and mighty sometimes.... It you will just listen you may learn something...You see, Actually, there were a series of redactors, working with the J.E.D.P. sources. It is called the documentary hypothesis.

Why are you chuckling? This is serious theology. Really! Ok, well, I am sorry, Jesus, if your "perfect" reading of the Torah has lead you to such a "conviction".

You see when you were in Torah school they did not know about the various groups that make up what is now known as the Documentary Hypothesis.

Yea, H-y-pothesis, the scholars who hold this view are humble enough to call it a hypothesis. They have intellectual virtue. Yes, they do call their approach "Higher" criticism. I thought you did not know this stuff?

Not sure, I will have to look into that, I don't know if "Higher" refers to their intellectual virtue? I'm getting off track... Oh yea, redactors..

Well, the Pentateuch, including Exodus was compiled from various “sources”. The sources are labeled J, E, ... D, and .... P. The different sources were woven “into the Pentateuch” over time most hold the sources were compiled into the current form in Babylon. The redactor wove together the earliest sources (JE) with the D source (JED) and finally the P source into JED.

Well, kinda, I mean it tells stories but not one big story through the whole testament. It is more like a jigsaw puzzle of an abstract painting. Have I read it? The whole thing? Not all of it, but I read the books of people who Have. ..... Enough about me, where was I..

J stands for Yahwist. This source is identified by its use of the term YHWH for God. E stands for Elohimist. This source came after J. They were all about God and morality. D stands for Deuteronomist. Right, they loved Deuteronomy. Some hold this source is the book that was found in the reign of King Josiah (2 Kings 22-23). P stands for Priestly. This source is associated with the concerns of maintaining the priesthood and the worship practices of the people.

Right, The rituals, worship and various religious and ceremonial laws written in exodus were added 400 years later in Babylon. No, it does not undermine the authority of scripture. It just means that it did not happen like the text says it did. No, No, No, that does not mean the text is fake or even untrue. The Moses you read is nothing more than an authors construct but It's spiritually true! Yea.. Oh.. Well .. I need to Go my bus is pulling up... Ok..... Got a go...you too.. you'll be praying for me... Ok? .. Sure... Later.. ..

Harvey Strickland: The young man hung up the phone wondered aimlessly around the station then sat slouching in a chair. Across from him no more than four feet away was the phone booth. It seemed even air laid heavy on him. He sat still pondering as if held by a resolute sadness. Then with god like determination he walked way and got on the 473 to Los Angeles. Not looking back once. With each step his stoic demeanor gave way to the rush of self mastery. He held his head high like one sure of all the answers even the unknown questions. The whole time, muttering to himself.. "I know I'm right...why can't he just listen ."

Back at where he began, propped up against the back of the booth was a slightly used bible. The young man left it after he hung up the phone. He did not need it, any more. The cover was tattered like caught in a battle, top edge bent back frayed and weathered, the bottom half ripped clean off exposing an inscription:

To Fay Roh, from your Friend, Jesus... Don't drowned out a yes with a world of "knows".. Remember I am just a phone call away...


1.) use a story to teach the documentary hypothesis with an obvious bias.
2.) allude to the process of pharaohs heart being hardened until God gave him over to the process (Rom 1).
3.) Show the danger of intellectual ideas that demand claims to authority.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Experienc of Child Birth and The Sanctity of Life on the Human Conscience

"Whoever heard of a midwife as a literary heroine? Yet midwifery is the very stuff of drama. Every child is conceived either in love or lust, is born in pain, followed by joy or sometimes remorse. A midwife is in the thick of it, she sees it all."

Jennifer Worth, “Call The Midwife: A True Story Of The East End In The 1950s.”

Midwives due to their very job as people who help bring human life into the world can't help but be affected by the Beautiful mess of the event. The birth process can invoke a myriad of emotions. In child birth a profound since of the wonder is experienced and as well as a clear indication of the weakness of life. Some things are so deeply rooted in us – instincts and emotions that we are not always aware of but they form us none the less. Consider these two quotes on birthing process from a midwifes persecutive.

“In the cot the baby was sleeping soundly. Gone was the puckered appearance, the discoloration of the skin from the stress and trauma of birth, the cries of alarm and fear at entering this world. He was relaxed and warm and peaceful. Nearly everyone will say that seeing a newborn baby has an effect on them, ranging from awe to astonishment. The helplessness of the newborn human infant has always made an impression on me.” - Jennifer Worth,

“I am almost as overwhelmed as Muriel, the relief of a safe delivery is so powerful. I clamp the baby’s cord in two places, and cut between; I hold him by the ankles upside down to ensure no mucus is inhaled. He breathes. The baby is now a separate being.

I wrap him in the towels given to me, and hand him to Muriel, who cradles him, coos over him, kisses him, calls him “beautiful, lovely, an angel”. Quite honestly, a baby covered in blood, still slightly blue, eyes screwed up, in the first few minutes after birth, is not an object of beauty. But the mother never sees him that way. To her, he is all perfection.” - Jennifer Worth

I think a baby is a self-evident truth in diapers. Just seeing a new born baby will usually evoke pleasant, happy emotions. Being involved even secondarily in the birth process can bring a new found respect for life. Some theologians have noted that the curse of pain in child birth also has a grace. It makes a way for mothers to deeply feel the sanctity of life. For if through pain comes life, then such a process breeds a deep appreciation and wonder for life. Midwives also experience this due to the consistently and proximity they are to the birthing process.

Midwives experience the messy celebration of life that is a birth. A midwife's experience over time could produce indifference even contempt but never before imprinting the paradoxical truth that Life is fragile and yet resolute. Life is seen in its truest form open to the elements, in need of protection, and yet stretching, hopefully, leaning forward into the oncoming succession of moments.

In light of such an impact consider that a every year in the United States alone, some three to five thousand babies are killed by a chilling procedure known as “partial-birth abortion.” The murder of a human child is always a shocking and brutal act, but few things on earth could be as barbaric as the killing of a baby at the very moment of birth. Also it is very interesting that the practice of midwifery is almost nonexistent in America. Coincidence maybe, tragedy truely, on both accounts.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Two Readings for Easter

Easter Mediation by Lactantius, written from the perspective of jesus speaking to his church. It paints a painful that draws us into deeper reflection on the one who

Does it please you to go through all of My pain experience grief with Me? Then consider plots against Me and the irreverent price of My innocent blood. Consider the disciple's pretended kisses, the crowd's insults and abuse, and, even more, the mocking blows and accusing tongues. Imagine the false witnesses, Pilate's cursed judgment, the immense cross pressed on My shoulders and tired back, and My painful steps to a dreadful death. Study Me from head to foot. I am deserted and lifted high up above My beloved mother. See My hair clotted with blood, and My head encircled by cruel thorns. For a stream of blood is pouring down like rain on all sides of My Divine Face. Observe My sunken, sightless eyes and My beaten cheeks. See My parched tongue that was poisoned with gall. My face is pale with death. Look at My hands that have been pierced with nails and My drawn-out arms. See the great wound in My side and the blood streaming from it. Imagine My pierced feet and bloodstained limbs. Then bow, and with weeping adore the wood of the cross. With a humble face, stoop to the earth that is wet with innocent blood. Sprinkle it with tears, and carry Me and My encouragement in your devoted heart. (1)

St. Ambrose writes on the mystery of the cross and how the cross changes everything. Reminding us that we are servants of the Lord and no longer slaves to the sin all because of jesus.

O the divine mystery of that cross! Weakness hangs on it, power is freed by it, evil is nailed to it, and triumphal trophies are raised toward it. One saint said: "Pierce my flesh with nails for fear of Thee." He doesn't mean nails of iron, but of fear and faith. For the chains of righteousness are stronger than those of punishment. Peter's faith bound him when he followed the Lord as far as the high priest's hall. No person had bound him and punishment didn't free him since his faith bound him. Again, when Peter was bound by the Jews, prayer freed him. Punishment didn't hold him because he hadn't turned from Christ.

Do you also crucify sin so that you can die to sin? Those who die to sin live to God. Do you live for Him who didn't even spare His own Son so that He could crudfy our sins in His body? For Christ died for us that we could live in His revived body. Therefore, our guilt and not our life died in Him who, it is said, "bare our sins in His own body on the tree; that being set free from our sins we might live in righteousness, by the wound of whose stripes we are healed."(2)

End Notes

(1) Lactantius, Poem on the passion of the Lord
(2) Ambrose, Of the Holy Spirit 1.9

Bio - Lactantius
Lactantius (c. 240-. 320). Lactantius's writings have such a style and grace about them that he has been called the Christian Cicero. It is assumed he was a native of Africa, where he attained prominence as a teacher of rhetoric. Diocletian invited him to live in Nicomedia and teach, but he had such a difficult time there that he focused on composition. He became a Christian late in life and was hired by Emperor Constantine to teach his son Crispus. Lactantius's writings defend the Christian faith and refute prevailing heresies.

Bio - Ambrose
Ambrose (c. 339-397). Ambrose was the first Latin church father bom into a Christian family. He devoted himself to studying the law and was rewarded by being appointed governor of the northern section of Italy in 370. Four years later, the people of Milan appointed him as bishop of their city. Ambrose faced down emperors while teaching the truths of Jesus on a weekly basis to the people. He did much to advance congregational singing, and composed an influential book on Christian ethics. Most notable Ambrose was instrumental in bringing a young Augustine to Jesus and disciples the great thinker in the faith. Without Ambrose we would not have Augustine.

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell

Location:Dallas,United States

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mary pondered, a meditation on the hidden gifts of Christmas.

Confusion can be frustrating. It can make us grit out teeth or even scream out in frustration. Confusion can also be a call for reflection. It reminds us, we don't know it all nor do we understand half the things we think we do. It shows us our need and is an opportunity to enter into deep reflection with the promise of discovering something True, Beautiful, or Good. I think this was Mary's experience in that stable so many years ago. 

Hundreds of scholars have debated the pondering of Mary's heart. I guess the thoughts of one hack can't hurt. I want to consider three possibilities. Three confusions found in the Christmas story. Three confusions that remind us of the love of God, his goodness towards man and the glory of Christmas.

Three maybes that Mary may have pondered.
Maybe it was the oddity of the messenger that Prompted Mary to ponder. How odd to her that God would choose to make shepherds, the unclean and shady men who smelled more like an animal than a human. These outliers are chose oracles. No way, that makes no sense. God chooses the great and values the best not the lowly and marginal people. She could have thought, Where these men God's herald? stinky smelly shepherds ordained as God's evangelists? When I have good new, I go first to my loved ones. I run head long to those dear to my heart to share my joy. Is that what God did? If so, what a picture of grace flavored love. God's intention in the form of angelic invitation beginning with the lowly. God's love flowing down to the depths of the valley finding the castaways, hungry souls. Men unfit, barred from the temple, unclean. Men in the night air secretly longing for redemption. Towards such men, God's love runs with good news. Was, God 's love towards such men, the thought she pondered on that night?

Maybe it was the oddity of the message that Prompted Mary to ponder. Maybe Mary pondered the announcement they told her. Now the text, does not say, but Surely the shepherds were asked to explain why in the middle of the night men of bad reputations were going from house to house in search of a baby boy. Any good parent would ask such questions and Mary and Joseph, I am sure where such parents.

In my minds eye I see the shepherds, one part hillbilly the other duck dynasty. I can see them with wild eyed wonder retelling the angels announcement. Of how they were watching over those sheep not far from town, (sheep that a historian 300 years later clams were the flocks set aside for sacrifice in the temple.) I can see those shepherds, faces slightly sunburnt still aglow from the encounter. Telling tales of Angels declaring the birth of a king in the backwoods of Israel. I see Mary intently listening to the Angels words, "I bring you good news of great joy, that is for all people" did Mary ponder that all. A king is over a nation not the "all" of all people. Could it be, the good news of great tidings is bigger than the next political movement? Bigger than Israel, beyond Palestine. Is it news for all people. A king born for all people? Quite confusing for Jewish girl of 18. Maybe that is what she pondered.

Or could it be something else, no less confusing than a God of all grace who's love moves him to choose first, the unlikely, and undone. No less befuddling than a gospel of a king for all people, and not just the privileged few.

There's one more possibility I would like to propose Mary pondered. Maybe it was just her, baby, her little man. Maybe, her confusion over the baby in her arms or just the wonder of a new life. A mother looking at her child for the first time can't help but marvel. Did Mary marvel and just reflect on the little body before her; A little seed of life, full of potential. When she looked at him did she see, an uncertain future? His destiny, mixed in prophecy and sung by angels that night, did it still hold a mystery just out of Her grasp. Did she see the possibility before her, salvation in her hands? The full potential of redemption's plan ready to begin, all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. Did she consider the implication, unfold them one by one. Was their pause to consider Isaiah's word as she held her child. Did she ever think that this baby, once a man would give himself to be the substitution for a nation, a people redeemed in him.

I don't know what Mary pondered but I know who she held. I have pondered him through in the dryness and days undone by grace. I ponder the truth I have unfolded time and again, a truth resting in that manger, realized on a cross. I have learned in reflection of a special Christmas gift hidden in seed form amidst the hay of that manger. This gift can best seen out of the corner of our eyes, seen in those standing next to us. Mary held the body of Christ. 33 years later that same body would bleed and bind a people beyond time and for eternity, into one new humanity. Just like there is no cross without Christmas, no hope without His first heartbeat. There is no community of faith without a baby in a manger. How silly we would be to gather together as we do, if he were not born yet how profound it is that he was born to gather.

In a world that would strip us of who we are to wrap us in other another garment. A world that calls us outliers, stinking Shepard, blind backwards sheep. We are reminded that God is with us; In history and time, in mystery and community. And So in our greeting and treating of each other we are Christ, God with us, in the world. We are Christ with us, given to one another as a gift, to weep with us, to smile with us, to laugh with us, to give the gift of presence. A double meeting where sinner laughs with sinner and sinner and sinner enjoy the savior. A double blessing of presence where the Savior's presence is enjoyed in the presence of believing hearts. It is in our sharing he is revealed. A Sacramental gift, an invisible reality made visible, even tangible, through the smiles and laughter, even in the pancake parties and pajama pants. I see jesus in his body - this is most true for me at Christmas.

So may our meeting have the gravity of "the other" also near, and may our greeting have the levity of costly grace entered in. That we may in whole heartedly honesty with a loving tremble in our voice, say, "Merry Christmas - God is with us, God is with us all, let us rejoice!"

In Him
J. Dawson Jarrell